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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

NYGA Gives Us Unprofessional Misinformation

The New York Gaming Association (NYGA) issued a response to comments in the recent statements by Monticello Harness Horsemen's Association president Alan Schwartz that were "highly critical" of the organization.

There was no basis in reality for these comments. They were misinformed and unprofessional.
Oh.  Ok then, let's see what Erin Dennin, the Director of Communications for NYGA, has for us in the way of information and professionalism.
Throughout NYGA's existence, our members have sought to work collaboratively with the horsemen and to the mutual benefit of our respective industries. There is a long record of results in this regard:

From 2004 to 2013, NYGA members have generated $1.1 billion in support of the racing and breeding industry.  This includes $235 million in 2013 alone, a full 12 percent of gross gaming revenues. These funds support more than 4,000 full-time equivalent racing and breeding jobs and help to sustain New York’s 2,300 breeding, training and racing facilities, in addition to 23,000 family owned farms.
Wow, that's very nice of them!  Except that what Ms. Dennin doesn't bother to tell us is that these payments are wholly mandated by the law. They have absolutely nothing to do with seeking to "work collaboratively" with anybody.  Does anyone think for a second that the NYGA members would be making these payments if they didn't have to?  We've seen just what Genting has done for Aqueduct above and beyond their legal obligations, despite their lofty promises at the beginning.  (Have you peeked into the supposed site of the Aqueduct simulcast bar lately?  It'll be ready, when, April of what year?)

The statement continues:
Mr. Schwartz has tried to paint a picture that our members are trying to kill racing.  He even went so far as to claim that NYGA members “engineered a law that will for all intents and purposes, freeze our industry out of existence…”. To be clear, NYGA members don’t “engineer” laws.  Lawmakers do.
Well, yes, lawmakers may engineer laws.  But organizations such as NYGA do their damn best to influence that engineering.  There's no doubt in my mind that NYGA was instrumental in the drafting of the law, including and specifically the VLT cap; and it has been my contention all along that their support of the referendum was bought in backroom deals.  If you don't believe that's the case, maybe you will when Saratoga and Tioga and Empire Resorts (owners of Monticello) get their casinos and the Catskills/Hudson Valley casinos are placed well beyond 48 miles north of Yonkers Raceway.

And, if NYGA didn't really believe they could help to "engineer" the law, why then would they contribute $2 million to Cuomo's business lobby, and millions more in campaign contributions and lobbying expenses?
The legislation provides for continued support of the standardbred industry, both by maintaining payments at 2013 dollar amounts and by guaranteeing any necessary future support from additional commercial casinos. These provisions will help to ensure the continuance of current payments to the standardbred industry, and more importantly will offer protection against any future losses in the face of cannibalization of Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) revenues.
Here, NYGA seems to be rubbing it in. It's exactly "the continuance of current payments" that is at the crux of the dispute in Monticello - just a proxy war for the larger fight with NYGA and the state - and the protection referred to is actually protection against the NYGA members replacing VLT's with table games not subject to payments to purses.

So, please. This is the kind of stuff that really pisses me off, because it's written with the presumption that we're all stupid. And actually, that is mostly the case, in a way. Not in the sense that we're intellectually deficient. But the fact is that most people are just not attuned to the nuances of these issues, if they know anything about this at all. They're paying attention to more important things (or maybe to nothing important at all). So NYGA can put out drivel like this and not see it questioned at all, particularly not in the mainstream side of the press.

Joe Faraldo discussed the Monticello situation on Steve Byk's show on Tuesday; a good overview, archived here.  A couple of interesting points: He told of how NYGA took the results of a study on the economic benefits of the industry that the harness horsemen did in conjunction with the thoroughbred horsemen, and used the rosy numbers in their PR ads with an eye towards winning casino licenses.  That's similar to how they cynically used the figures in this statement; again, as if it demonstrated that they are good corporate citizens and magnanimous supporters of the agriculture and racing industries, rather than making statutory payments that are part of their cost to do their lucrative business. A relatively small cost, I'd say.

Faraldo also said that any agreement that might be reached with Monticello management could then be taken to Albany as a template for an arrangement that could amend the law and replace the cap, allowing the industry to grow along with any lucky NYGA members that get casinos.

 - Suffolk Downs lives fight the next fight, anyway.  Voters in Revere have approved the Mohegan Sun casino on the track site.  We're told that this would keep racing going there for at the next 15 years, at least.  However, this thing ain't over yet.  The vote merely allows the track to compete for the lone Boston area license with Steve Wynn's proposal for Everett.  Personally though, I think that Suffolk/Mohegan Sun will be awarded the license by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.  I'll get into my reasoning, and have more on the vote and its aftermath in the days to come.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Monti Horsemen Cry Foul / MA Horsemen Hold Their Breaths

The Monticello horsemen have written a letter (below) to Mark Gearan, the NYS Gaming Commission Chairman (pending confirmation by the State Senate), complaining of retribution on the part of track management as the horsemen continue to block the out-of-state simulcast signal.

MHHA President Alan Schwartz tells the Chairman-to-be (we-presume) that track management closed the track for training on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, as of this past weekend.  (This, in addition to evicting the horsemen from their offices at the track.)  This action, he explains, not only jeopardizes the welfare of horses whose training schedules will be compromised, but it thereby hinders their ability to run to form, causing form reversals that turn off bettors and raise questions about integrity.
  In pari-mutuel wagering authorized in New York State, it is clear that past performance is of extreme importance to the wagering patron, and so maintaining a horse’s conditioning through regular training is critical to the structure of the wagering system.  (As a matter of fact, there is a provision that penalizes horsemen when harness horses show form reversals or inconsistent race performance lines.)
 It's a pretty sly letter, taking an appropriately explanatory tone towards a prospective Gaming chairman who knows little about least as far as we know from his resume, and hitting hard on those key buzzwords of the day - safety and integrity.  Recapping in the final line, Schwartz asserts that management's actions "impact the health and safety of horses and the very integrity of racing in New York State."  He also suggests that Monticello is violating the racing law by reducing/eliminating racing facilities without prior approval by the Gaming Commission, and requests immediate relief.

 - There is legislation afloat in the racing and wagering committees of both houses of the New York legislature that would require local approval for casinos.  James Odato reports in the Times Union that the "leadership of the Senate seems unlikely to advance the measure."  Its prospects don't seem much better in the Assembly, where committee chairman Gary Pretlow expressed a lack of enthusiasm.
 "At first blush, I probably would not be in favor of it," he said. A local siting vote, he said, "just causes a lot of angst." He noted that in Massachusetts, which is holding local votes to gauge community support for a casino, roadblocks to progress have resulted.
 Yeah, but look how much more fun it is in Massachusetts!  Today (Tuesday) is the day of the big vote in Revere, with horsemen and racing fans holding their breaths (and the harness fans doing so until Friday).  The clergy-led opposition has expressed optimism.  But they've been outspent by $400,000 to $11,400, and, from what I've been reading (there have been no official polls), the measure is expected to pass, just as Revere approved the original Suffolk Downs plan in November.
 “I think Revere should be as sure a win as you’re going to get in Massachusetts,” [UMass Dartmouth casino expert Clyde] Barrow said. “The theme we’ve seen over and over in these referenda is distressed communities with low incomes and high rates of unemployment approve these referenda, and the bedroom communities and suburbs that are comparatively affluent with low rates of unemployment vote against it.” [Boston Globe]
 The casino was approved by 60% of the voters last time; and the Globe piece points out that it's important for its competition with Everett that it garner at least that much support this time.
 The Wynn plan won 86 percent of the vote in Everett last June — and state gambling regulators have been clear that the strength of local support will be one factor in play in the next round of the competition before the state gambling commission.

Speed Rules, Again

There were six races run on the main track at Gulfstream on Saturday. Take a look at the result charts – in only one case did the finish position for the horses that were 1-2-3 at the stretch call change at the finish; and that was a horse who rallied to get third, some six lengths behind the winner.  It was a big race day and, as we’ve seen so often, speed was king. Even in the 5th race – an absolutely horrible, awful maiden race that took 40 seconds to run the last 3/8ths (nearly 14 seconds for the final furlong) and which was painful to watch – nobody could gain ground late.

This continues the curious phenomenon of speed biases on big race days. They obviously don’t just happen organically.  Can’t just be a coincidence. Somebody has to be doing something, and I’ve never understood the appeal of fast raw times (not even the case across the board on Saturday), and why track superintendents or management or whomever would want their races on these days to be so uncompetitive in the late stages. You’d think that Frank Stronach in particular would be sensitive to the issue. Horseplayers blasted Santa Anita’s surface after Breeders’ Cup Friday to the point where major effort was put into making the track play fairer the next day.  Yet, it was more of the same at his Gulfstream folly on Saturday. I just don’t get it.

Well, if there’s one good thing to come out of it, we should sure have an honest pace for the Kentucky Derby!  Wildcat Red ($11) and General a Rod alternated in the 1-2 spots from start to finish in the Fountain of Youth, and thereby earned themselves spots in the starting gate at Churchill.  You can bet they’ll be around early that day; and I’d be willing to bet right now that neither will be around late. As we discussed in our FOY preview, General a Rod is the better suited of the two pedigree-wise for the longer distances.  But, after dueling to a half mile in 46 1/5, these two decelerated from there, and were there for the taking.  I’m thinking they’ll be taked at a mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May, joined up front early on no doubt by other speedy types who take advantage of speed biases on their big prep race days.  For their efforts, each colt earned TFUS speed figures of 103.  As Craig points out:

[Please continue reading at the TimeformUS blog...]

Upstate Creeping Downstate

Orange County has become the subject of attention of casino companies that are interested in its proximity to New York City.

Three of the industry's biggest players have made multiple site visits to locations in Orange County that they're targeting for a potential casino, [County Executive Steve] Neuhaus said. [Recordonline]
Penn National and Cordish are two of them.  Orange is officially included in the Catskills/Hudson Valley region which is slated for two casinos.  It's generally assumed that at least one, for sure, and quite possibly both will be sited in the Catskills region, in Sullivan County.  However, as you can see below, Orange County is around half the distance from NYC than is Ellenville, home of the Nevele, one of the Catskills casino hopefuls.

Not surprisingly, Nevele owner Michael Treanor is having none of this.
"Yes, the economics of putting one in Orange County are very compelling....But it's not going to happen because the legislative intent of the act (that allows the casinos) is what its name says, The Upstate NY Gaming Economic Development Act. Orange is not upstate." 
Hmmm. Well, I'd say that's a matter of perspective.  To many of us here in New York City, upstate is anything north of Yonkers Raceway. And however one would define it, the act that Treanor cites does quite specifically, in section 1310, include Orange County as an eligible zone. So I think the Nevele owner is rather nervous about this, and one can't blame him.  As Treanor says himself, the economics are very compelling.

On the other hand, Woodbury, the location that Penn National is looking at, is only 48 minutes from Yonkers, and would obviously pose a major competitive threat to their VLT's.  So, if the NYGA has anything to say about the siting (as I've been assuming they will), you can bet that both casinos slated for that region will be located in the Catskills.  But we'll see.

Things will heat up in New York in the next few months to be sure; but most of the really good action is taking place in Massachusetts these days. It's always with keen anticipation that I check in for the latest developments there. And it rarely disappoints.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is under scrutiny once again. This committee has been putting the casino aspirants under the most meticulous scrutiny.  Caesars World operates casinos in 13 states plus Ontario.  But it was forced to withdraw from its Suffolk Downs plan due to a business relationship with a person alleged to have family members involved in organized crime outside the US.

Yet this commission seems to have far more lax standards with respect to itself.  We've discussed the fact that Stephen Crosby, the chairman, is a former business partner of a landowner who stands to profit greatly if the Boston area casino is awarded to Steve Wynn in Everett; and that he even contacted Wynn by phone when he was getting cold feet.  (Caesars is suing the commission over this obvious conflict of interest.)

Now we learn that the MGC is quite footloose and fancy-free when it comes to its travel and entertainment.
Examples of the commission’s extreme spending are many, ranging from a state police officer’s one-way flight from Hong Kong to Boston for $7,257 to a $5,550-per-month housing allowance for top executives to more than $78,000 in parking benefits provided to commission employees in Boston. That parking perk, according to state law, is prohibited at Massachusetts agencies that receive taxpayer funding.

Other charges are of a more personal nature. One commission employee used her agency-issued Bank of America credit card to order from an online wedding-goods vendor. Another employee used his card to buy a $423 iPad. Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby treated a colleague to a $110 visit to a wine bar in Singapore, while Zuniga charged $422 to Plaza Limousine, the self-proclaimed preferred car service for the Boston Red Sox and local VIPs. [Masslive]
Crosby himself is said to be a particularly frequent user of the company meal card.
On a recent trip to Asia, Crosby recorded 10 food-related room charges during a five-night stay at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Hong Kong. The total cost for those meal charges — not including nine visits to the mini bar that Crosby covered out of pocket — was $565, according to his room receipt.
A board member cited the urgency of their mission, and last-minute meetings with gaming types who bounce around "from one exotic gaming location to the next."  And the MGC points out that they are not spending taxpayer money but, rather, they are being reimbursed by the casino companies as part of the application process.  Well, as far as I'm concerned, that actually can raise bigger questions about exactly who is reimbursing whom for what!  And, I think it's all really besides the point.
Inspector General Glenn Cuhna said: “The Gaming Commission is a public agency. It was created by the Legislature to oversee the casino industry on the public’s behalf. Even though it does not have a line item appropriation in the budget, the commission and its staff should still establish and follow rules and standards that ensure public money is spent appropriately.” [Bizjournals]
I still can't get over the conflict of interest thing.  These guys are too much; and who exactly is responsible for overseeing this commission anyway?  It seems as if they operate in their own little kingdom.  I'm pretty confident that the head of the New York siting committee won't be a former business partner of Michael Treanor, and that they won't be doing much traveling to the Far East.

As Tuesday's vote in Revere draws near, supporters and opponents were out to promote their causes.
About 200 people opposing a proposed Mohegan Sun casino walked from the Immaculate Conception Church to Revere City Hall this afternoon, led by a Salvadorian marching band. [Boston .com]
Yeah, I was waiting for someone to whip out the Salvadorian marching band.  Both sides are expressing optimism; the field organizer for Mohegan Sun is predicting a rout.
“I think we gained a little momentum this time because the deal is more lucrative......I’d be surprised if we don’t get 64 percent.”  Limoli, who said he has mobilized 200 campaign workers to drive voters to the polls and work the phone banks Tuesday, faulted the opposition’s anti-gambling message.

“Revere doesn’t see gambling as the bogeyman. We grew up with Wonderland (Greyhound Park) and the racetrack at Suffolk Downs,” he said.
Well, to that I would say that I think there's quite a difference between the couple of race tracks running nine races a few days a week for a few months out of the year (without simulcasting, when he was growing up), and a casino that's open 24/7.

Tuesday's vote won't be the only big decision in the state this week.  On Friday, the MGC is slated to select the operator and site for the one slots-only parlor that is allowed by the casino law.  There are three applicants, including Penn National, which is proposing a facility at the Plainridge harness track.  If accepted, it would keep that racetrack open. Otherwise...
“This is a one and done deal,” said Billy Abdelnour, president of the New England Amateur Harness Drivers Club. “This will literally end, finish harness racing, because there is no one waiting in line to build a racetrack in Massachusetts.” [WBZ]
The other bidders are Raynham Park, a former dog track which says it would conduct a 40-day harness meeting at the Brockton Fairgrounds, and Cordish, which has no racing-related plans at all.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday News and Notes

A survey of businesses in downtown Saratoga Springs shows that most of them oppose a full-blown casino at the harness track.  This prompted the usual argument from the pro-casino side.

Morgan Hook, spokesperson for Destination Saratoga, which supports expanding the casino with table games, stated: "We know a full casino is coming to the Capital Region, and the question now is whether it's better for downtown Saratoga businesses to have that casino here or somewhere else nearby......Alternatively, the casino could be built in a location that competes with Saratoga, which would pull hundreds of thousands of visitors away from downtown." [Albany Times Union]
Similar to the standard "we're losing gambling dollars to other states" argument, it's the usual fear-mongering rather than discussing what a casino with a hotel and entertainment and a multi-purpose event center, and which profits by keeping its patrons on its site, would do for downtown merchants.
Last year, according to Hook, Saratoga Casino and Raceway drew 2.1 million visitors to the city. If a casino is built in a competing location, it could “pull hundreds of thousands of visitors away from downtown,” Hook said. [Saratogian]
But I might think that downtown business owners would know anecdotally whether or not their business is boosted by slots players; and the result of this poll would indicate that most of them don't believe that's the case.  Not that the racino owners such as James Featherstonhaugh really care what they think anyway.

Governor Cuomo says that he has had no discussions with the Seneca tribe about reopening the state's compact with the tribe in order to allow it to pursue a casino in the Rochester area.  The Senecas currently operate three casinos and are limited by the compact to that number, unless it gets permission from the state and the feds to renegotiate it.  In typical Cuomo-ese, the governor said: "It hasn't been discussed. Anything can happen theoretically in life, but other than that, no."

Er, this guy is gonna run for president, seriously?  Well, I guess anything can happen in life!  Maybe Cuomo will actually go to one of the racetracks that he controls this year!

Over in Massachusetts, voters in Revere are getting set for the dramatic vote this Tuesday on a Mohegan Sun casino on the Suffolk Downs site, the result of which will determine that racetrack's future.  The mayor of that city is accusing residents of Everett, the proposed site of Steve Wynn's competing casino bid, of playing dirty politics in his town.
“I’ve got a very close friend of mine who happens to be friends with one of the ‘No Casino’ sign-holders, who, by the way, happens to live in Everett,” Mayor Dan Rizzo said. “So my friend said to him, ‘Geez, what are you doing out here, what are you over in Revere for?’ He goes, ‘Oh, I was told to come and hold a sign.’
As I drive by these ‘No Casino’ sign-holders, and I’m mayor of this city, I don’t recognize any of them. I don’t know who they are. [Boston Herald]
Revere has a population of 53,179 (as of the 2012 census), so Mayor Rizzo must be quite the flesh-presser in order to recognize all of them!  Steve Wynn denied any involvement on his part.  Meanwhile, local clergymen continue to rail against the proposal.  But, as usual, the big money is on the casino side; Mohegan Sun has spent $400,000 in support.

Meanwhile, in another twist in this endlessly twisted situation, Mohegan Sun is being sued by the landlord of the site in Palmer where the company had originally sought a casino before it was voted down by 94 votes. Northeast Realty Associates is seeking to bar Mohegan Sun from operating a casino in Revere, or anywhere in the state other than Palmer. Yeah, that would be a problem for Suffolk Downs, should they get past next Tuesday.
The planned suit.....alleges Mohegan Sun opened talks with the racetrack to build in Revere in early October, a month before it lost a Nov. 5 referendum.  The suit also accuses the company of basically tanking the Palmer referendum fight once it learned a more lucrative opportunity had opened in Revere. [Boston Herald]
The company wants Mohegan Sun to relinquish its lease on the land, and accuses it of refusing to do so in order to prevent any possibility of a casino to compete with the company's flagship casino in Connecticut.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bold Ploy for Monticello Horsemen

I do recommend that you read, in their entirety, the two statements, linked to below, that Alan Schwartz, the president of the Monticello Harness Horsemen's Association, has released regarding the ongoing standoff between the track/casino management and the horsemen who are blocking the out-of-state simulcast signal.  As we mentioned here, this is hardly your ordinary signal dispute.  The Monticello horsemen are raising an issue that goes far beyond their track, and which could reverberate around the state and, eventually, if and when more revenue is at stake, in Albany.

At the heart of the dispute is the casino enabling law which freezes payments towards purses from VLT revenue at 2013 levels for any track which gets a casino license.  It was originally portrayed by casino interests to be a "floor" to allay fears that the racinos would remove the electronic slots from which, by law, a percentage goes to racing, in favor of new games from which racing will get no share.  (Please excuse me for one of my occasional horn toots, but as I feel as if, while the mainstream press reported it as a floor at the time, I pointed out the cap part right at the beginning.)

In the first statement, the Monticello horsemen explain why they believe that this is about nothing less than the survival of their sport.

The Monticello stalemate is about saving our industry from those private New York racetrack operators who want to morph into standalone casinos. It is about an effort to stop the track owners from destroying harness racing by actively telling legislators and other government officials in Albany that increasing the track operators’ profits and shortchanging racing is the right thing to do..... These track operators engineered a law that will, for all intent and purposes, freeze our industry out of existence in the long term. Tell your supplier of feed, your vet and blacksmith that they can't raise their prices above 2013 levels in the years to come because of the selfish action of the NYGA track owners.....As was said not too long ago "If you don't fight for your future, you may wake up one day and wonder why you don't have one."
(I Googled that quote to see just who said it not too long ago, and I think that maybe it was just Schwartz himself since his statement is the only thing that came up!)

Things get even more interesting in the second statement.  I'd wondered aloud here what the horsemen meant to accomplish considering that the cap is written into a law that neither Empire Resorts, the owner of Monticello, nor the NYGA can change themselves.  And indeed, management has accused the horsemen of trying to amend the law via their actions.

That however is most definitely not what they are trying to do.  Forget the law, and the cap, and the VLT's.  The Monticello horsemen quite simply want management to, of their own volition, cut them in on a piece of the casino action.
In the meantime, and separate from these ongoing efforts in Albany [to amend the law], our Monticello horsemen have simply proposed - as part of a contract negotiation between two private entities - that Monticello make some level of additional payments from their own revenues/vendor's fees to racing, should they be granted a full casino gaming license. As noted above, while our purses now have a hard cap imposed on them, the Monticello Casino will have no similar cap imposed on their revenues or their profits, and so we are simply seeking a reasonable opportunity to continue to grow the agricultural/farming and racing industry and work together to succeed right along with them as we had when we partnered with the tracks to start a VLT program in NY.
So, far beyond VLT revenues, the horsemen are going after the revenue from the new casino games that has been carefully and conspicuously shielded from racing, no doubt something that NYGA has worked hard to ensure. It's a bold ploy, made possible only by the power that the 1978 federal law gives horsemen's groups to block the out-of-state simulcast signal.  (Except for those at long as it remains a non-profit association, anyway.)  Anything that they may be able to accomplish will surely serve as a precedent for other tracks that become full casinos in years to come, upstate and, sooner than you may think, downstate; so I imagine that NYGA is paying very close attention.  Monticello is a small track in terms of wagering, so management could just cut purses and this dispute could possibly go on for quite some time without many people noticing. But the harness horsemen are surely serving notice to the rest of the NYGA.  And the state will start to notice as well should this action spread to other tracks.

As far as the thoroughbred horsemen go, even should the non-profit status of NYRA change when it emerges from state control (which I don't think it will) and thereby give the horsemen control over the signal, they are still in a different situation from their harness brethren with the Aqueduct racino under separate ownership.  Genting has no stake in the simulcast signal. But given the materiality to the state of the revenue it receives from the ample out-of-state wagering on NYRA racing, I'd think they could still make a play should precedent be established at the harness tracks.  But that's all speculation and years down the line.

 - If you missed it, take a look at this race chart (from BRIS, I hope they don't mind) for the 4th race at Aqueduct on Monday.

That is about is ugly as horse racing can get.  You could stick curling sheets between each of the horses that finished first through fourth.  And the #4 horse who didn't finish was the third choice at 3-1.  Yikes, just awful.  My first reaction was that somebody should be investigating something here; such as, why was Rift even running seven days after his prior start, a fifth place finish at 2-1, given obvious questions about the physical condition of a horse who'd recently returned from a 1,005 day layoff; a former stakes-placed animal now running at bottom claiming tags, and without any success in three such starts coming into this one.

But, contemplating a bit more, I was then thinking that maybe somebody should instead investigate the horseplayers who made him 3-1!  Why would anyone in their right mind bet on a horse like this!?  I mean, besides his three fifth place finishes since his return, he was running in a two-turn mile race after never having gone beyond six furlongs!  Well, of course the answer is because he is trained by David Jacobson.  No doubt he could have been 20-1 if his trainer was Randi Persaud instead.  I know that some people say that so-called "super trainers" (we like to refer to them as 'alchemists' in the office) are ruining the sport.  But hey, don't bettors have to sometimes take some responsibility for their stupidity instead of casting about for blame?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Gulfstream Saturday

Bombs away at Gulfstream on Friday when Mass Invasion ($93.40) came from last in the field of six to sweep by Salamera and take the 8th.  Since I did pick the latter here, I feel comfortable in expressing incredulity that Calistoga was sent off at 2-5 in her first start since running 4th in the Eight Belles on the Derby undercard, some 287 days ago.  Prior to that, she started her career with two wins over the Gulfstream strip.  Mott is pretty good off the layoff, but a hot pace was too much for this daughter of Speightstown out of a full sister to Giacomo, and she faded to 5th, ouch.

The longshot winner was actually earning her third win in five starts.  Her recent form is that of a classic in-and-outer, with the three wins sequenced amongst losses of 11 and 20+ lengths.  She's by Mass Media, who you may recall as a Frankel sprinter who upset the Forego at Saratoga in 2005 (prompting me to write here that I "wouldn’t come up with him if they ran the race 100 times.")  He now stands in Louisiana for $1500.

Mott then regrouped and took the 9th with Clearbrook ($13.60).  Back in third about a length and a half  behind was 11-1 Win For Kitten, for Contessa, who continues to send out live runners on the grass.  This goes back to Saratoga, when I made some nice money on this barn, and looking to do the same here.

 - Staying down at Gulfstream, in the 8th on Saturday, the G3 The Very One, let's take a stab with Dame Marie, at 10-1 morning line, the co-longest shot in the field.  She's never been this mile and three-eighths distance, but has been running pretty well at shorter, earning solid TimeformUS speed figures while running into some tough pace scenarios for her closing style.  Her last was particularly fine, a wide move to win at Churchill, earning the best last-out number in the field.  Dame Marie is by Smart Strike, out of a Royal Academy mare; and she is a half-sister to Rule of Law (Kingmambo), who won the mile and a half Great Voltigeur and the nearly mile and seven-eights Group 1 St Leger, both in the UK.  So I'm fairly optimistic that Dame Marie will be able to negotiate the extra ground; surely enough so to take a shot at that price.

In the 9th, Hurricane Elvis (5-1) is coming off an impressive second place finish in a nine furlong race in which he had a troubled trip.  Off last after getting bumped, he was last down the backstretch, as Pinball set a comfortable pace up front.  He made nice progress saving ground around the turn, but found himself in and amongst horses in the stretch. Undaunted, he bulled his way through traffic and finished strongly to earn the best last-out TFUS speed figure in this field; this while Pinball was picking up the pace after a leisurely second quarter to earn his 4th consecutive win in his first try on grass.  Now, Hurricane Elvis stretches out to mile and a half, a distance at which he's one-for-one.  Trainer Mark Casse, in a bit of a cold spell at the track of late, has successfully similarly stretched this six-year old gelding out off relatively short rest - 14 days, in this case - in the past, so he looks to repeat that pattern here. Wings of Fortune (3-1) is the logical favorite for the red-hot Maker barn coming off a solid second at a similar distance, just behind repeat winner Unitarian.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Gulfstream Friday

Aqueduct canceled today, and watch out this weekend too.  It's when we get all this rain/snow and the temperature hovers around freezing that you see the freeze/thaw cycles that has caused problems on the inner track in the past.

In warmer climes, Pletcher hasn't had a winner at Gulfstream since Sunday, but that's only because he hasn't had a starter. The Toddster has won at least one race on each of the last 12 days on which he's had a horse entered; on three of occasions, he won with the only one he had.  Starting from November 30, what Gulfstream considers to be the official start of the meet, Pletcher has a record of 142-45-26-16, a 32% winning percentage.  Next in the standings is Michael Maker, not too shabby himself at 84-25-9-13 (30%).

I wrote about the speed figures for the Donn, those of us at TimeformUS and the Beyer, on the TimeformUS blog.

Pletcher doesn't have a starter until tomorrow, but Maker sends Bernie the Maestro (4-1) out in the 4th today. Last time out, he set a torrid pace in the mile and an eighth Florida Sunshine Millions Classic which was won in facile fashion by Mucho Macho Man.  Today, he cuts back to seven furlongs, a distance at which he is 7-3-3-0 on dirt, and at which he's a nose away from having won his last two in a row.  He'll likely need a stalking trip to avoid getting caught in a duel with Evolution Rocks (9-5), but has done so successfully in the past, and picks up leading rider Castellano, with whom Maker has enjoyed much success of late.

In the 7th, Ayrton (5-1) is an interesting entry for trainer Manuel Azpurua, who has shown signs of life the last couple of days with a winner, a second, and two thirds from six starters, including some live runners at big prices.  This horse added Lasix for a start on January 23, and this is his 4th start since then!  In addition to becoming so prolific, he has shown vastly improved speed in his two turf route tries, the last of which was a good second with a highly competitive TimeformUS speed figure.  His last race, just a week ago, was a curious one, at five furlongs against far better; he trailed all the way around, and it seems almost like a workout. Stretches back out here, and is projected for a nice stalking trip from his inside post.  Valerie'sgreenjet (10-1) is forecast as the leader by Pace Projector; he has shown improved speed and form since returning from a 289 day layoff last fall.

In the 8th, Salamera (3-1) is another horse who has returned in sharp form after a long layoff; this one some 384 days.  Unusually-bred (inbred 2x4 to Valid watch out if there's any moisture left in the track), lightly raced four-year old daughter of Successful Appeal will be making her third start off the layoff for trainer Rodolfo Garcia, 3-0-1 with his last five starters.  She earned the best last-out TFUS speed figure in the field in her last, finishing third in the Florida Millions F&M Sprint behind the streaking Ullapool and My Pal Chrisy, who returned with a bang-up second in an overnight stakes, and Castellano sticks around to ride again.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wednesday News and Notes

An article in the Boston Globe has become a flashpoint in the complex and endlessly fascinating casino situation in Massachusetts.  The Globe reported that Connecticut casinos owned by Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, two of the applicants for licenses in Massachusetts, have placed liens on "dozens of homes" owned by customers to whom they had loaned money that, obviously, has not been repaid.

Not only is the collection tactic uncommonly aggressive — a number of industry specialists said they had never before heard of casinos using it — but the liens raise questions about whether the businesses allow or enable gamblers to extend themselves too far.
“Frankly, I have not heard of any casino company that goes after homes,” said Whittier Law School professor I. Nelson Rose, an international expert on gambling law. “It’s really extreme.”
Green said it would be “ridiculous” to use a lien to chase a gambling debt. “From a PR standpoint, you can’t have it both ways.....If we’re going to argue to legislators and the public and to you guys in the press that we’re an entertainment business, we can’t at the same time be foreclosing on people’s homes.” [Boston Globe]
The more disturbing issue raised by the Globe is the circumstance of some of the loans.  The article focuses on one particular customer who was, for some reason, lavished with loans that were far beyond his means by both facilities .
Cutler’s 2007 bankruptcy filing declared that his sole income was a monthly Social Security check of $640, yet two of the world’s biggest gambling palaces — both applicants in the Massachusetts casino sweepstakes — had lent him more than $66,000 to make bets, and then went after his house when he could not pay it back.
Huh?  Well, it took about 24 hours for Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley......yes, that Martha Coakley..... to step up to the plate to bash that softball out of the pahk.
‘‘Protecting against predatory lending and overly aggressive debt collection in the gaming industry is critical, because the odds are stacked against the patron being able to earn back the value of the loan."
 Meanwhile, Mohegan Sun has gone on the offensive against Steve Wynn, with whom it is competing for the Boston area license.
 “Unlike Wynn, our commitment [to building in Massachusetts] is not contingent on anything,” Mitchell Etess, chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, said in an interview at the Globe. He said that Wynn Resorts, the Las Vegas company run by billionaire casino developer Steve Wynn, has demanded numerous accommodations from state offices — on environmental regulations, taxes, access to his proposed site, and other considerations — and suggested Wynn may not proceed with his project if he does not get what he wants. [Boston Globe]
Wynn has asked that the tax rate for his casino be reduced to be in line with that which would be charged to a tribal casino; and the accusations over environmental regulations relate to the fact that Wynn is cleverly proposing to build his casino on a contaminated former Monsanto site.  On the other hand, Wynn questions Mohegan Sun's motives, suggesting that they have an incentive to drive customers to their Connecticut locale, where table games aren't taxed. (That's an accusation which has surfaced before.)

The vote in Revere on Mohegan Sun's proposed casino at Suffolk Downs is coming up on February 25.

Back here in New York, it was reported that NYGA President and Saratoga Raceway principal James Featherstonhaugh visited other prospective casino sites in the Capital District, including the possible competitor for the license in Rensselaer, where residents voted in favor of casino gambling.  Can't say what he's up to; maybe looking for a backup plan, maybe trying to scare supporters of a Saratoga casino in order to light a fire under them, or maybe he's not happy about the notion of a Saratoga casino being of the scaled-down variety in order to appease residents.  I suppose that the harness track could, in theory, apply for a license to build a casino somewhere else where they would be free to make it "Las Vegas" style.

A rough week for the Resorts World site at the Big A.  On Friday, a patron in the racino, who was said to be on a winning streak, offed himself by diving head first 30 feet from the top of an escalator.  Yikes.  On the previous Sunday, there was a sexual assault in a bathroom on the racing side, which is described in quite explicit and disturbing detail in the criminal complaint which is contained herein on the Capitol Confidential blog.

What I'm wondering is why exactly was this story reported there, on the Albany Times Union's blog which covers matters of Albany politics and, therefore, mostly corruption and fraud.  As one commenter queried: This relates to fraud/waste, how?  Then we see that the entry is by James Odato, and the picture becomes clearer.  Odato is probably the leader of the New York press corps' NYRA-bashing club, as we've documented here before on more than one occasion.  And the inference here is clear when Odato leads with: A previously unpublicized report of a sexual assault in a women’s restroom was reported in Monday’s Times Union column.    Oooo, smacks of a coverup, eh?  Let's see, who wrote that column in Monday's Times Union?  Oh, it was Odato; he was linking to himself. 
  A female attendant previously staffed the washroom, but because of cutbacks that hasn't been the case for a few years, according to a union official.
Yeah, guess it's all NYRA's fault, how dare they not have every bathroom attended?  Right underneath the story, after it notes that NYRA has dismissed its director of seating and parking, Jerry Davis, a longtime NYRA official who made $170,298 a year - thereby no doubt increasing the chances of a sexual assault in the clubhouse seats - is the signoff: 
  Do you have a story about waste and abuse of public funds? Contact James M. Odato at 518-454-5083, or on Twitter at @JamesMOdato
I'll be sure to keep that in mind. (And, by the way, Jerry Davis is still listed on the NYRA site as an active Racing and Operating Official as of this writing.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bigger is Bettor, But Is It Better?

I want to talk just a bit about the super duper Belmont Stakes day, as indicated in the title.  But first, I wanted to expand and embellish a bit on the post I wrote about the Donn and the FOX telecast on the TimeformUS blog.  If you want to check it out, I'll wait before I go on.

I'm not really qualified for a full review of the FOX telecast, since a series of restless nights caught up to me and I was passed out on the couch for the first 23 minutes.  But a few comments.  Just want to be clear(er) that when I say that the broadcast team looked nervous and needs time to develop chemistry together, it is certainly not meant as a criticism.  This was a pretty significant step up in class for all of the team, even given all of their prior experience.  So of course there were nerves.  And, after all, this team was selected just a couple of weeks ago.  Though Simon Bray and Greg Wolf work together at TVG; and Andy Serling and Richard Migliore have worked together on the MSG telecasts, here they were split up and working in roles and settings that they were not all accustomed to.

I was a little surprised to see The Mig in the on-track analyst seat; seemed a closer fit for Simon Bray, or maybe even Serling.  But he actually seemed the most at ease of anyone.  In fact, someone suggested that he seemed maybe a little too loose, and expressed fears that he's liable say something he'll later regret!  At one point, he teased Serling over his remark that he was fine with trusting the jockeys to do their job.  That might have been funny for those of us familiar with the NYRA feed, but it surely went over everyone else's head, including probably their colleagues on the telecast.  But that's just part of the adjustment to this new stage.  These guys are gonna be fine.

I thought Simon seemed a bit stiff and uncomfortable in his paddock analyst role. Serling seemed fine, curtly dismissing Will Take Charge in his way that you don't normally see on these telecasts.  Usually, the commentators are almost apologetic about picking against the main horse of interest.  I'm not sure where Andy was, somewhere up there in Stronach's folly somewhere it seemed.  I liked when those two disagreed about whether the track was speed favoring or not; but it seemed like a tentative debate, as one might expect with two guys who may never have even met until the night before.  As this series goes on, this year and hopefully beyond, they'll become more comfortable with each other, and it'll be great.  The next telecast is the Dubai World Cup, and whether they actually go there, or broadcast it remotely, it will give them some time to spend and work together in closer quarters.

Other than that, don't really have much to say, which, in this context is good.  It was just a good, solid intelligent racing telecast for the racing fan - with a little beginner stuff mixed in (though I personally wouldn't recommend $50 show bets on the two favorites); more like the yeoman's work we see from TVG and HRTV when they are on site.  No extraneous camera angles (which was probably as much of a budgetary decision than anything else, but you can't beat the good ol' pan shot); and no sappy features (unless I missed one in the first 23 minutes).

One note on the race - I saw some chatter on Twitter about the fact that the track was sealed during the four consecutive grass races that were run prior to the Donn.  There was speculation that perhaps that caused the track to get souped up and contribute to the jackhammer performance by Lea.  Previously, closers had done pretty well.  Makes sense, but it's just speculation, and I don't want to take anything away from Lea, who had every right to improve as he did without any extra assistance from the track maintenance crew.  Nobody had a chance once he reeled off three consecutive quarters of 23 4/5 to the eighth pole, and it was quite the remarkable performance by Will Take Charge to get as close as he did, with the rest of the field spinning their wheels, strung out behind him.

 - The announcement by NYRA that Belmont Stakes day will be part of a 'Belmont Stakes Festival,' including ten stakes races for purses of $8 million - the second biggest purse day of the racing year - left me cold.  Well, maybe that's because everything is cold around here these days.  I look outside and at the upcoming forecast and I wonder if this stuff is gonna melt by Wood Memorial day!

Strictly as a betting card, I'll probably prefer the fare on Wood day over Belmont day, because I'm just not a big stakes race least when it comes to wagering.  A perfect card to me is what we see these days on a typical weekend day at Gulfstream.  Full-field claimers, a lot of interesting maiden races, competitive allowance contests on both surfaces, capped off by a nice graded stakes race or two.  To me, that's a "full day of quality racing."

So I'm not really that impressed, or thrilled.  That's just me, but I'll be going anyway.  On the other hand, our buddy Figless is excited about it.  But he'd also be going anyway even if the format was unchanged.  The point being, as Pullthepocket succinctly pointed out the other day, big days are big - and Belmont day is already about as big as they get - and they won't necessarily get any bigger if they're made bigger.  Or something like that.  Of course, the handle will likely be bigger, because people bet more on graded stakes races, as shown by the study we did over at TimeformUS.

Yup, we sure like to bet on these races; or at least many of us do.  (Do note please that the stakes pool sizes are inflated in part by bridgejumping show wagers, which are more likely to be more bigger in a stakes race with an outstanding favorite.)  So, one can surely expect a record handle day.  But how about the days from which stakes such as the Met Mile will be taken away?  Won't they suffer, if not proportionally, surely in a material fashion?  And wouldn't the Belmont day handle still be extra big on an allowance race if it was thrown into the sequence?  By around 4:30 PM on Belmont day, I'm thinking that people will bet on just about anything!

We all understand what they're trying to do here.  But personally I'm skeptical that the big purses will bring many extra people out to the track; hopefully it will entice some from out-of-town to make plans and not wait until after the Preakness to decide (and this is partially a bet against the same horse winning the first two legs).  But people like us are going to go anyway.  And are new or casual fans really going to be attracted by outsized purse monies anymore than they are already lured by the event?   Seems to me that attractive entertainment and/or hospitality features alone - yet to be announced - could very well accomplish that without the extra stakes and prizes.  One thing I think I can say for sure - the idea that there will be more press coverage of the event is just wishful thinking.  As we've seen from the Breeders' Cup, newspapers devote a certain amount of space for a horse racing event - and the more "big" races there are, the smaller the coverage of each will be packed into the same amount of space.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Siting Board Appointments Include Cuomo Allies

The first three members of the Resort Gaming Facility Location Board, the panel that will decide the sites and operators of the four upstate NY casinos, have been named by the NY Gaming Commission.

Most notable in terms of name recognition is the former NYC Comptroller, and two-time NYC mayoral race loser, William Thompson, Jr.  We last saw him managing to run second in November, ahead of Christine Quinn, despite what seemed like a lackluster campaign.  He barely qualified for a runoff against de Blasio, but bowed out after a couple of days of bluster after realizing that he had no chance.  Thompson gets a major demerit from this corner for hiring Hank "Take the Fifth" "It’s none of his f–king business, how’s that" Sheinkopf as a senior campaign strategist for his latest bid.

Thompson has had prior dealings with the governor.  Cuomo campaigned for him in 2009, when Thompson ran a surprisingly close second to Bloomberg and Cuomo was preparing to run for his first term the following year.....and Thompson subsequently served as co-chairman of that campaign.  In 2011, Cuomo appointed Thompson as chairman of a task force with the goal of expanding state contract opportunities for minority and women-owned business.  So, no question that these two have a relationship that goes back at least several years.

That's also the case with Paul Francis. He worked on Cuomo's 2010 gubernatorial campaign as well, as an advisor on budget and policy issues. After the election, the governor appointed him as State Director of Agency Redesign and Efficiency and named him Chairman of the Spending and Government Efficiency Commission.  He served in those roles until retiring last year.

And the third appointee, Hofstra University president Stuart Rabinowitz, has dealt with Cuomo as well, though not nearly as closely as the other two..  He is a co-chairman of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, one of 10 regional councils created by...Cuomo to develop long-term strategic plans for economic growth.  Just last month, Cuomo extended his term as well as those of the chairmen of the other regional councils.

So, while there may not be that much of a connection between Rabinowitz and the governor, I think the title of this post is certainly fair in referring to the other two as allies of the governor; they both did work to get him elected, after all.  And note that neither of those campaign roles is mentioned in the otherwise comprehensive biographies of the three men included in the Gaming Commission's press release.  As presently constituted, those two make up a majority of what constitutes a quorum, though we're told that two more members will be appointed.

Now, I certainly can't say that Governor Cuomo will simply pick up the phone and tell the panel members where he wants the casinos to be sited and to whom (though nor would I rule that out).

However, as we've seen, the governor has already tilted the process in the racinos' direction by stating in the budget that new casinos could be operating by January 15 of next year.  The more I think about that, the more fantastic the idea seems.  In the press release announcing the appointments, the Gaming Commission restates the timetable, with "Early Fall 2014" being the goal for announcing the selections.  Only an existing facility could possibly be operational by January 15.  The budget might as well just have said flat out that existing racinos will be operating table games by that date.

If the location board accepts that date as a deadline for an operating casino, be it through coercion, corruption, inference, or telepathy, then the process surely will have been steered in the racinos' favor.  Better yet, if potential bidders get the message that Cuomo wants these things up and running early next year, and that they will therefore be in too disadvantaged a position to make it worth their while to even bother with a bid, then we won't even see any qualified applicants enter the process.  Even with a level playing field, it's an open question as to whether there's any interest amongst the top casino operators to invest in a facility in the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes region where Gural hopes to get the license for Tioga Downs.  And the notion that the long-dormant Catskills region could be revived to its former status as a resort haven is merely a theoretical one at this stage.  The casino giants may prefer to wait for more lucrative opportunities down the state road.  In that case, then there wouldn't even be much of a decision for the siting board to make.

 - Simulcast signals are the lifeblood of the racing industry these days, and it's all too common, as we know, for them to be the subject of disputes amongst various industry parties.  We see fights between racetracks over payment rates for signals, as with the simmering situation between NYRA and Churchill Downs.  And then there are the situations when horseman's groups exercise their right under the Interstate Horse Racing Act to withhold approval for interstate transmission of signals  (Pullthepocket took a humorous look at that here, and a more serious one here.)

The ongoing situation at the Monitcello harness track however is apparently not your grandfather's signal fight.  Led by the Standardbred Owners Association of New York president Joe Faraldo, the horsemen there are taking a stand against the provision in the casino law that would cap payments towards purses from VLT's at 2013 levels at any racino that gets a casino license.  
 “I expect a purse cut, because the last time this happened in 2006 that was the first thing they did,” said Faraldo. “I’m not looking short term, I’m looking long term. To remain competitive, the agricultural and horse industries need to share in the profit.” [Daily Racing Form]
 Monticello seems like a small stage for what is a much larger fight; indeed, this is an issue that cannot even be resolved strictly between the horsemen and the track management.  Empire Resorts, as part of the NYGA, may have had a hand in inserting the provision as part of the backroom dealings that led to the language in the law; but it's the law and they surely can't change it by themselves.  It remains to be seen whether Faraldo intends to hold out there indefinitely, or whether this is intended as a shot across the bow; a warning for the future as agreements at other tracks come up for renewal, especially at Yonkers, which would have a more significant impact to revenues for the track, and for the state.  And, should the more staid thoroughbred horsemen get involved, then things could really get interesting.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Cuomo Rushing to Racinos' Advantage

In an opinion piece published in the Albany Times-Union, Marc Baez, the president of The Partnership for Economic Development in Sullivan County (located in the Catskills region which is slated for two casinos, both of which may very well be sited in that county), writes that Governor Cuomo originally projected that revenue from casinos would start to flow to the state in 2016. However, as you may recall, the good governor's budget envisions casinos operating in January of next year.  Mr. Baez thinks that this raises serious concerns.

If we don't adhere to that original time frame, existing racinos could be given priority in licensing, because they can simply throw on an addition and begin operating what they call a "casino." Fast-tracking an existing racino would severely limit the creation of hospitality and tourism jobs generated by full-service resort destination casinos with amenities like hotels, golf courses, spas, world-class culinary options and performing arts venues.
It will also eliminate thousands of construction jobs across upstate, where they are so desperately needed.
Well, this all makes perfect sense; it's all coming together now. Indeed, how convenient for the racinos that the governor has moved up the timetable by a year!  As I've been saying all along, the fix is in on this thing.  The New York Gaming Association, representing the racinos, was against the casino referendum before they were for it; and they were the one group with the motive and means to effectively oppose it.  There's little doubt in my mind that their support was sealed in a backroom deal.  Jeff Gural will get his casino at Tioga Downs, the Saratoga harness track will get theirs, and Genting will get a piece of the action through its interest in Empire Resorts, the owner of the Monticello harness track racino, which will get their casino at the old Concord resort.  The accelerated timetable for the revenue creates the scenario for the siting board, to be selected by Cuomo's hand-picked gaming commission, to go through the motions - if any company is dumb enough to bother - and then pick the racinos based, in part, on the "economic activity and business development factor" component that is supposed to weigh 70% towards the siting decision.

And if that indeed transpires, the governor, who once called the racinos a "scandal" and said he "one hundred percent" opposed them getting casinos (a couple of days before the Times published an expose about NYGA's contributions to a pro-business group closely associated with the governor, in an attempt to head the story off and blunt its impact - unsuccessfully since the Times pretended that those remarks never happened), and who once gushed about all the great companies out there that would compete to bring the best world-class casinos to the state, will have completely reversed himself on the matter.  And he will likewise pretend that those remarks never happened.

I'm not really sure what the gentleman from Sullivan County is concerned about.  Surely, whichever casino or casinos are granted to companies there will be resorts and not racetracks, with the possible exception of a temporary facility at the Monticello harness track until the Concord is ready with its golf course, hotel, and spa.  And I'd think that the Catskills casinos will be in a strong competitive position with the other two.  Saratoga harness will agree to be somewhat scaled-down in deference to community concerns.  (Though our buddy Figless sure makes an excellent point about a giant hotel at the casino there.)  And Tioga Downs as a destination resort?  Well, maybe they can draw from surrounding areas, but I just don't see many people making specific plans to go to Nichols, NY when there are so many options available (and to be available) in the Northeast.  (No offense intended to Nichols, NY.)

  - Senator John Sampson....and yes, he is still a State Senator despite his being indicted last year on charges that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called “an especially breathtaking bit of corruption, even by Albany standards," has been indicted again.
The U.S. Attorney’s office today announced that Mr. Sampson, who once led the Senate Democrats, is accused of “making false statements to FBI agents about directing members of his Senate staff to take actions to benefit a Brooklyn liquor store in which Sampson secretly held an ownership interest.”
Mr. Sampson was also recorded instructing an anonymous government staffer to help the store deal with outstanding tax obligations. The senator even appeared to be aware of the potential illegalities involved, telling the staffer to “do it on your own cell phone and do it on your own time.”  He is further accused of lying about these incidents and others when speaking to federal agents. [Politicker]
Not sure if that was the same conversation as when he told FBI agents that "Not everything I told you was false."  Sampson's defense lawyer responded to the new charges the same exact way he responded to the first indictment....not even bothering to directly deny the charges, but instead asserting that his client has been fully cooperative, and adding:
 “We can, however, state categorically that Senator Sampson has not betrayed the public’s trust while acting as an elected public official. Indeed, after years of investigation and two indictments, the government has not charged Senator Sampson with a crime relating to the misuse of his public office."
The reader who sent this news along to me lamented the fact that, with all these charges, the feds will probably never even get to Sampson's sordid role in the AEG matter.  But if they ever do, Sampson's lawyer will have to come up with a new line.  Any charges along those lines would surely involve his client betraying the public trust and misusing his office by trying to steer the Aqueduct racino to his favored group, which was clearly less qualified to operate the facility than its competitors (which did not at that time include Genting).

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Siting Without Representation

 - I wrote about some of the weekend's racing action over at the TimeformUS blog, here and here

 - With the New York casino siting process still in its formative stages - and with other pressing matters in the area - Saratoga Springs residents and other affected citizens in the 113th Assembly District do not currently have a representative in the State Assembly; as reported by Dennis Yusko in the Albany Times-Union.  Seems as if Governor Cuomo has not seen fit to call a special election to fill the seat vacated when the Republican Rep. Tony Jordan resigned for another position.  Nor for ten other vacant seats.

More than 1.2 million New Yorkers are missing legislators, and the open seat in the 113th District has deprived its more than 83,000 registered voters of an advocate on important budget issues, education and where to place casino resorts, candidates and government advocacy groups say.
"It's seems like every week there's another open seat, given the travails of our friends in the Legislature," Cuomo said.
Oh, that governor, what a wit.  Should Cuomo not call for an election, the seat would go unfilled until November, which would be after the "early fall," which is when, we're told, the sites and the operators will be announced.  Given that both the leading Democrat and Republican candidates for the seat support the bill introduced in the Senate that would give local communities the right to vote on a casino being located there, would it be too cynical to suggest that the governor is in no special rush to fill the seat for the 113th A.D?

 - Back to the fun and games in Massachusetts.  I'd mentioned that, in the backdrop of all this, is a movement to repeal the casino law.  Once largely dismissed as the whimsical campaign of a few antigambling zealots [Boston Globe], the repeal movement has hired a respected team of lawyers to fight to get a measure on the ballot in November.  They have already gathered the 68,911 signatures required to do so.  However, Attorney General Martha Coakley.....yes, that Martha Coakley....ruled that the repeal petition was unconstitutional, on these grounds:
 ...the repeal would “impair the implied contracts between the commission and gaming license applicants” and illegally take those contract rights without compensation. [Boston Globe]
One of the repeal group's lawyers responded to Ms. Coakley's "takings" theory.
Witherby said litigation over the 2008 ballot effort to ban live dog racing in Massachusetts applies to the current lawsuit over the question to ban casinos.  “If the owner of a dog track that has been licensed for decades can’t prevent the people from voting to outlaw dog racing, it’s hard to see why mere applicants for a license should be able to prevent the people from voting on casino gambling."
So, this fight will play out in the Supreme Judicial Court after the repeal group appealed the AG's decision.  And no surprise that the gambling companies plan to intervene in an effort to quash the appeal.  (Though they apparently won't have to be concerned about losing their licensing fee of $85 million each.)

Separately, in an editorial, the Globe meticulously lays out the pertinent facts surrounding the (separate) contest for the one slots-only parlor that is the subject of a three-way bidding war.  You might be interested to read its explanation as to why it doesn't care for two of the proposals....though it's not pleasant.
Both the Raynham and Plainville plans brag of the boost that they would deliver to the ailing horsemen. At Plainville, Penn National promises that slot-machine revenue would subsidize harness racing, keeping the track alive. The former dog track at Raynham is too small to host horse racing, but Carney says he will reopen another track that he owns in Brockton for harness racing if he’s granted the slots license.
The sinking popularity of horse racing threatens the livelihoods of veterinarians, blacksmiths, breeders, and trainers. For them, and the sport’s remaining fans, it’s a tragedy. But faced with any industry in decline — whether it’s horse racing or typewriters — the state should work to ensure new opportunities for affected workers, rather than keeping an unsustainable business on life support indefinitely.

The gambling legislation, unfortunately, gives the horse tracks a permanent bailout. The law devotes a chunk of the slot parlor revenue, plus a share of the initial license fee, to fatten horse racing purses. That’s more than enough state aid: Combining the slot license with a horse track will only take more dollars that could be used for other purposes.

While Raynham and Plainville boast of their lifeline for horses, Leominster has a better strategy. It promises to give an annual grant to a UMass program that supports startup medical device companies, a growing sector of the high-tech economy with realistic prospects for Worcester County and beyond. [Boston Globe]
We can argue jobs, jobs, jobs, and how the industry sustains and creates them.  But arguments like this are surely resonant, coherent, and fair.  Of all the sound business reasons that this industry needs to find ways to stand on its own without revenue from slots - however one wants to characterize them - eliminating these arguments from the conversation is paramount. Some states may be running surpluses now.  But that won't always be the case; and gambling revenues directed towards horse racing will continue to be in play as long as racing remains dependent on them.